I’ve been meaning to write down my thoughts on Google Glass for quite a while now. However, I thought it a bit hypocritical to critique it without trying it out first.
Small problem: I live a very long way from Mountainview, CA. And the Glass isn’t coming to New Zealand any time soon. So what are my chances of even taking a look at Glass in real life, let alone commenting on its usefulness - at least for a couple of years until it is available here.
Turns out, pretty good.
Through my ultra-connected sister-in-law, Wendy, I got to meet and hang out with world-renowned photographer and geek Trey Ratcliff the other week. Since Trey and his Glass are not often parted, and since he is a pretty cool guy, he had no problem letting Wendy and I try out the (as far as we know) only pair of Google Glasses in the country.
(Please excuse the photo: iPhone 4S + low-light + me as a model = not so good.)
So, first impressions? Well, wearing Glass and playing around with its features for a while confirmed for me what I had suspected before trying it on: that it is definitely first generation hardware, that it is a fascinating concept, and that I think it definitely will have some use cases for consumers - but maybe not the ones the media are currently focusing on.
On the first point, the hardware is 1st gen. You can tell when you wear them that this is a step above a prototype…but not a big step. They are comfortable enough, though, and not as distracting to wear as I would have thought. The actual Glass ‘screen’ image is also not quite as transparent as I would have thought or hoped. You can see the four corners of the display, and when it is active (at least in the low-light settings of a restaurant at night), you can see the background behind the ‘Ok Glass’ text as a semi-opaque white square. I guess I hoped that it would just be the text that was visible, not the ‘background’, but I’m pretty sure that’s beyond their engineering capabilities at this stage.
In terms of the concept, it is indeed fascinating. Being able to ask a question and have the answer appear, or take a photo hands-free, or reply to messages and get directions without taking your phone from your pocket - it really does feel like the next level of personal computing. I mean, in the same way that the Motorola DynaTAC must have felt like the next level of telephony. In years to come, I’m sure we’ll look back with the same sense of mirth at the photos of people wearing Glass as we do today at people holding those giant phones to their heads (usually in 80’s movies.)
In terms of the potential use cases, this is where I maybe stand apart from a lot of the other commentators in terms of my views on Glass. See, I personally don’t think that the camera functionality is the ‘killer app’ on the device. I think, rather, that the heads-up display (HUD) is. This is what feels like the new feature, and what is more in tune with where science fiction would have us think we are heading anyway.
Being able to have information overlaid on the reality in front of you is very powerful. This is not something this generation of Google Glass has got quite right yet, and it is not something which is obvious if you’re just using it for reading text messages. But, if a future version of the platform could augment reality by providing another layer of context to what we see around us, I think that would be huge!
Is it suitable for all situations? I don’t think so. If the rumoured partnership with Warby Parker is true, then the aesthetic problem is bound to be solved at some point. Provided the connectivity and battery issues can be solved too, then there won’t be anything stopping people from wearing these all the time - save for some of the emerging, alarmist legislation that is starting to appear (particularly focused on the camera functions, incidentally.)
But to me, I think these are going to be more like reading glasses or sunglasses than wear-all-the-time glasses. Think about it: when would it be useful to access information (e.g. directions) without using your hands or looking away from in front of you? Driving, perhaps? Riding you bike? Out walking the dog? Carrying shopping bags back to the car? These are All situations where I might be wearing purpose-focused glasses - like sunglasses - and all situations where Glass may also be of use.
So, while there will be the Treys and Scobelizers of this world - who will wear them nearly all the time - I’m just looking forward to wearing them sometimes.
Preferably sometime soon!
More than occasionally, I have friends and colleagues asking what apps I use a lot on my iPad (or iPhone), and what I would recommend for this or that. While each is to their own, and your mileage may vary, I thought I’d start to capture some of the main apps I use and like here so that people can check them out and download if they like. And, no, I don’t get any commission or kick-back for these recommendations, nor do I take any responsibility if you buy them and don’t like them. :)
Note-taking on the iPad is a very individual thing, so I’m a bit loathe to recommend one note-taking style over another. That being said, Notability is a pretty comprehensive app. You can introduce pictures into your text, annotate them, use handwriting if you wish, sync with Dropbox, create folders and categories - there’s not much it doesn’t do. You can even record audio notes! Well worth the couple of bucks to buy it outright.
For a long time, Apple didn’t have any kind of task list on their iDevices. Then, with iOS 6, they released Reminders, and while it’s fine(ish), Toodledo is better. I find it very useful when you’re following the GTD methodology - with contexts, projects, notes etc. - and it has a (not very pretty) web interface that it syncs with as well. Importantly, the Windows client also syncs with Microsoft Outlook, which is rare! Another outright purchase, and well worth it in my opinion.
This one is a little geekier, but if you have a virtual desktop at work like I do, or if you know how to enable Remote Desktop connections to your Windows PC (Google it!), then this app is invaluable. It allows you to access your Windows PC desktop on your iPad as though you were sitting in front of it. You then use finger gestures to emulate the mouse and you basically have a fully-functional Windows desktop environment on your iPad, when you’re on the same network. If none of that makes any sense, then steer away from spending the $16. But if you want to remote in to your PC, this app is the best I’ve come across.
I assume you already have this. And know what it is. If you don’t, then head on over to Dropbox.com and sign up. Now. It’s the best way to sync files from your PC or Mac with the ‘cloud’/internet, and with your iPad. Go. Now. Install. It’s free.
Ever wondered why you can’t use your iPad or iPhone while you’re wearing gloves? It’s because the iDevices utilise a ‘capacitive display’ - i.e. when you touch the screen, your finger is actually acting as a conductor and forming a capacitor which…oh, never mind. It means that drawing on your iPad is tricky because you have to use your (relatively blunt and squishy) finger. If you buy a stylus to do some drawing, then it will also be blunt and squishy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make cool drawings on the iPad. Case-in-point: Paper (by Fifty Three). It’s free to download, although you pay for more drawing tools, but it is a very beautiful app. Good for quick sketches.
If you travel internationally at all, this app is great. TripIt is an online itinerary management site, and it’s fantastic. When you receive your itinerary from your travel agent, you can just forward it to email@example.com, and then all the details are loaded up and synced with this app on your iPad and/or iPhone. Great place to quickly reference flight numbers or hotel details.
This is another one in the ‘surely-you-already-have-this’ category, but on the odd chance you haven’t heard of it, Flipboard was built for the iPad. You customise it with channels and social feeds, and it then it presents those items in a beautiful interface akin to a social magazine. Check it out - it’s free. And awesome. It’s frawesome!
If you PowerPoint a lot and find that whenever you view your slideshows on your iPad, the formatting is all screwy, then SlideShark is worth checking out. The app uploads your presentations to their server, converts them, and then syncs them back down to your device with animations and most fonts intact. Don’t use it for work presentations that you’re not allowed to upload to an external service though.
Why would anyone pay for a podcast management app on their iDevice? I mean, Apple already has an awesome podcast app built-in, right? Well, I prefer to say that Apple has an app called ‘Podcasts’ built in. I leave out the awesome bit. Downcast provides a lot more flexibility and control to those of us who are podcast-junkies. You can get it to automatically refresh feeds when you arrive or leave a location, you can control which podcasts it downloads with what frequency, you can stream directly - the list goes on. Well worth it, in my opinion.
They’re a little less awesome since they started placing some restrictions on their free service, but LogMeIn is good for remote access to your PC or Mac when you’re not on the same network (i.e. over 3G or wireless from somewhere other than your house.) And for the non-techies out there, this is a lot easier to set up than remote desktop connections. And it is free.
So, there’s a starter for ten. If you have any thoughts or other recommendations, drop me a line or a tweet. If this is useful, I’ll try and post another list in the future too.